The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
MOBILE, Ala. — The first time I saw Jeff Sessions in court and then interviewed him in person 27 years ago, my human instincts and reporting acumen led me to conclude that there was something horribly wrong about this little man’s character. I never figured he would advance much beyond his position as an assistant U.S. attorney in Mobile.
Not that I would discriminate against any person for his or her physical height. Sessions is barely five-feet tall. I am only five-foot-six myself. But when I met him and interviewed him in his office in Mobile in 1989, I had this feeling of towering over a midget, and not just physically. His intellect did not impress me either. (See more on that story in the end).
I was wrong about how far Sessions would go politically. As a politician who apparently had his finger on the pulse of this strange mix of religious and political conservatism among the voting public in our home state, he went on to get himself elected state attorney general and then United States Senator.
This week he will go before the U.S. Senate for confirmation as U.S. attorney general, the unlikely nominee of president-elect Donald J. Trump to be the highest law enforcement officer in the land.
While there is mounting opposition to his confirmation, I suspect he will breeze through the process.
If you are curious about how the national mainstream media is covering this, a good place to start is the big Sunday story in the New York Times. The treatment of Sessions here is incredibly fair, what I would call “bend over backwards” fair, even though you know damn well the leadership and the staff at the Times can’t stand Sessions and do not want to see him confirmed as the nation’s top law enforcement official. The thing they don’t like about him the most is his long history of fighting against civll rights.
The Washington Post also has a big Sunday story to consider. It is also “bend over backwards” fair, although it points out Sessions’ biggest weakness, which also turns out to be his biggest political strength. His anti-immigrant, pro-European American ideology.
How do you think Sessions got white, working class union voters and non-union members to vote for him since the 1990s? Clearly, he emerged as a key player in Trump’s campaign because of his detailed thinking on the immigration issue that aligned with something Trump thought he could exploit in his presidential bid: White, working class anger.
While the national mainstream media establishment has totally been hoodwinked for the past few weeks over the Russian hacking-fake news story, perhaps they should go back and study the poll demographics Trump exploited to win this election. On the Sunday morning television news shows, a bias was clear against Trump and for this story line that the big money establishment in New York and Washington thinks they can use to discredit Trump’s presidency: “The Russians did it.”
But what if it was just angry white working class voters who carried the day for Trump, not Russian hackers?
The leadership of the national NAACP came to Mobile last week and held a sit in at Sessions’ local Senate office, and ended up getting arrested to protest his nomination and confirmation. But will it make any difference on Tuesday? Probably not.
What is missing in the national debate over Session’s nomination is something I reported on back in 2009. Sessions used his position in Congress to enrich himself in ways that are certainly of questionable ethics, if not outright illegal.
Since his first election to political office, Sessions has been on a crusade on the side of corporate America and against the rights of workers and juries for many years, even though he has been able to fool working class workers into voting for him. His support from and for large corporations, especially the big banks, insurance companies, energy giants and military contractors, and his corresponding support of deregulation in those industries as well opposition to health care reform, is as responsible for the 2007-2008 economic meltdown in America as anything else.
The conservative Wall Street Journal did an expose on Sessions back in October, 2007, which documented a conflict of interest on Sessions’ part in using his position in the Senate to help some of his top contributors in the banking industry. The story did not gain any legs at the time because no one knew the recession started in December 2007 until the numbers came in back in December 2008. President George W. Bush had not announced his first big government bailout of banks and insurance companies at that time, a move that launched massive resistance against the money establishment in Washington — which could be argued was the beginning of the anti-establishment climate that helped Trump win the 2016 Republican nomination and general election.
This story was not just about a political a payoff to Sessions’ campaign contributors for his support of an amendment to a banking bill. Mr. Sessions and his wife owned stock in two of the institutions that would have been shielded by an amendment pushed by Sessions that would have allowed banks to avoid paying billions of dollars a year in royalties on technology that converts paper checks into electronic images. Mr. and Mrs. Sessions at that time owned shares in Compass Bancshares Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., valued at between $115,002 and $300,000, and his wife owned stock in Citigroup Inc., valued at between $15,001 and $50,000, according to financial-disclosure records.
Sessions was quoted as saying those contributions and his financial holdings had nothing to do with his support for the amendment. Right. If you believe that I’ve got some swampland in coastal Louisiana for sale.
While the national stories talk about Sessions’ poor beginnings in Alabama’s Black Belt, none of them point out that he is now considered one of the wealthiest member of congress from Alabama, with a net worth of $4.18 million dollars. How does that happen on a politician’s salary, even a U.S. Senator who has not practiced law in the private sector in 35 years? One who came from meager beginnings, not a rich man going in like U.S. Senator Richard Shelby of Tuscaloosa?
Savings and Loan Scandal
Back in the day, in 1989, when I traveled to Mobile from Gulf Shores to cover court cases against developers accused of defrauding banks on beach condo developments during the Savings and Loan Scandal, one of the early developments that would end up helping to cause the Bush Great Recession in 2007, I asked Sessions a question point blank to his face about why the guest judge was brought in from Birmingham to hear the cases. He just laughed at me as if I was the most naive person on the planet.
I found out later since his office could not find a single judge in Mobile who did not have a conflict of interest because of their ownership of beach condos in Gulf Shores, they brought in U.S. Circuit Court Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham as a guest judge. Clemon had a reputation of letting defendants off unless prosecutors could prove “malicious intent” to defraud, a very tough mental standard of justice. So every case Sessions pretended to try to make against developers ended in acquittal.
Sessions’ job then was to prosecute developers who bilked the taxpayers out of money by borrowing to build condos on the beach. Many never finished their projects and defaulted on loans. Instead of aggressively prosecuting them, he did a half-assed job of going through the motions and let them all off the hook. He did not obtain one single prison sentence for any developer who defrauded the banks and taxpayers. He did not recover $1 of taxpayers’ money.
To make matters worse, he was not the least bit concerned about losing the cases. In his office the atmosphere was like a celebration. Nobody was down about losing the cases. I’ve never seen this before or since in any legal office or case I’ve ever covered. There is no doubt in my mind that the fix was in.
There is also no doubt in my mind that Sessions is a corrupt politician and a person of low character who should not be gracing the halls of congress, much less acting as the chief law enforcement officer for a great nation.
Right now, if the national news media were interested, they could find women, African Americans, gay people and those of Latin American descent — legal and illegal — who are afraid for their very lives because of Trump’s election as president and his appointment of Sessions as attorney general. It is hard from here to see how anyone in their right mind could think confirming Sessions will help “make America great again.”
Some of my Republican friends, especially in South Alabama, think his confirmation will be good for Alabama. By that they mean good for business. Maybe it will be good for big business in some ways.
I say it will be bad for America. Perhaps the Senate should take that into account.
But of course under the leadership of the likes of Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, they will most likely put on a pretense of asking tough questions and rubber stamp the choice of the Republican president-elect.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Grassley, Chuck (IA) , Chairman
Hatch, Orrin G. (UT)
Graham, Lindsey (SC)
Cornyn, John (TX)
Lee, Mike (UT)
Cruz, Ted (TX)
Sasse, Ben (NE)
Flake, Jeff (AZ)
Crapo, Mike (ID)
Tillis, Thom (NC)
Kennedy, John (LA)
Feinstein, Dianne (CA), Ranking Member
Leahy, Patrick J. (VT)
Durbin, Richard J. (IL)
Whitehouse, Sheldon (RI)
Klobuchar, Amy (MN)
Franken, Al (MN)
Coons, Christopher A. (DE)
Blumenthal, Richard (CT)
Hirono, Mazie K. (HI)
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.